Sunday, August 27, 2006

New Green Party Leader - Prospects

The Green Party has elected a new leader. She is Elizabeth May, a long-time environmental advocate and activist. May is also their first leader with real political skills. She is an effective communicator and should have a stronger media presence then predecessor Jim Harris, who, how shall we put this delicately, was a little weak in this department.

The Greens appear to draw mainly from the NDP and the Liberals (and the Bloc in Quebec). However, they also draw support from a younger, none-of-the-above voter who I suspect is somewhat alienated and less interested in politics, and probably doesn’t know any details of the Green platform but likes the Green brand.

However, one should not expect any early electoral success for the Greens. I have done some simulations using my forecasting model. I calculate that the Greens would have to almost triple their vote to 13.4% (and nudge slightly ahead of the NDP) to win their first seat, a highly unlikely proposition. For simplification, I had the Greens draw equally from the Liberals and the NDP (adding in the BQ in Quebec).

They seem to be hurt more by the first past the post system than even the NDP. They achieved initial success in piling up votes in 2004 when they won 4.3% of the vote, but they only edged upward to 4.5% in 2006. Long-established Green parties in Europe have not done all that much better in vote share terms. The German Greens, who have sat in the German Parliament since 1993 courtesy of proportional representation received 8.1% of the party list votes in the 2005 German election.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Liberal leadership numbers

Calgary Grit has written a detailed and numerical assessment of where the Liberal leadership race stands. It is a commendable effort to make sense out of a murky situation, one that could still change significantly in the run-up to the constituency meetings to select delegates on the weekend of Sept. 29 to Oct. 1.

His conclusion is a blend of numbers based on new members and existing. The methodology for counting existing members is intrinsically arbitrary - very big assumptions have to be made. It is worth reading the comments (at the bottom of the post) for alternative opinions.

The one critique I would make of his estimate is that TC doesn’t think that new members will turn out as strongly as existing members.

In any case here is Calgary Grit’s final estimated count for the first ballot:
Michael Ignatieff 22.9%
Gerard Kennedy 18.4%
Bob Rae 15.8%
Stephane Dion 14.4%
Joe Volpe 8.8%
Ken Dryden 8.6%
Scott Brison 7.4%
Carolyn Bennett 1.7%
Martha Hall Findlay 1.6%
Hedy Fry 0.4%

Given the error inherent in such an estimate, I think it makes more sense to describe four groupings, in each it is probably impossible for sure to say who is ahead although Ignatieff likely leads Kennedy:

Leaders: Ignatieff and Kennedy
Right behind: Dion and Rae
Some measure of support: Volpe, Dryden & Brison
Out of it: Bennett, Findlay and Fry.

I note in his separate estimates for new and existing members that Dion is ahead of Rae among existing but trails him among new members. I would therefore project Dion ahead of Rae but from this estimate it is too close call between them.

A shrewd Liberal TC knows suggested a few months ago that it would be Ignatieff vs Candidate X on the final ballot. It appears clearly from this assessment that it would have to be Kennedy, Rae or Dion. I doubt it will be Rae as Kennedy and Dion seem more likely to garner second choices from below. Of the three, I suspect Ignatieff would defeat Kennedy or Rae but lose to Dion.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

New Brunswick Election

An election has been called in New Brunswick for September 18. Although the government faced a precarious situation in the legislature and the possible loss of a seat in a by-election, the more likely explanation for why now, a year ahead of the government’s four year mark, can be found in increasingly favourable polls.

Premier Bernard Lord’s PC party likely received the same message from private polls conducted over the summer as they did from this one released by Corporate Research Associates in June. It puts the PCs ahead of the Liberals 45-39 with just 9 per cent for the NDP. These numbers would produce a legislature split 35-20 for the PCs over the Liberals with the NDP, which lost its only seat in a by-election following the resignation of former leader Elizabeth Weir, getting nothing.

Although the government’s lead looks narrow, other details in the poll including the trends on government satisfaction and preferred leader make it clear that the NB Tories are in a strong position.

The most interesting aspect of the election is that it appears set to restore the political reputation of Premier Lord, damaged badly by his near defeat in 2003. That is important because he remains a potential national Conservative leader. This might seem remote with the Harperites enjoying power in Ottawa, but they do have a minority and their accident-prone summer suggests they may not be there forever, the weak Liberal leadership field notwithstanding. There are some hazards for Lord in the coming campaign from issues such as gasoline prices, but he has probably learned his lesson about underestimating the potential of such concerns from the 2003 campaign when ignoring rapidly rising auto insurance rates almost led to this defeat.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

David Broder on the 2006 Elections

I generally consider David Broder, the elderly political columnist for the Washington Post, a dispenser of bromides. All the more remarkable then that he writes a blunt column postulating that the Republicans are in deep trouble in the American heartland. Here is an excerpt:

"I had dinner one night with a group of Ohio Republicans, all with many years of experience in state politics and none directly engaged in this year's gubernatorial race. One of them said, "I'm afraid this could be another 1982," a year when recession pushed unemployment to 15 percent and cost the Republicans the governorship. Another said, "I'd settle right now for another 1982. I'm afraid it will be another 1974," the year of the Watergate election, when Democrats swept everything in sight."

The whole thing is worth reading. Thanks to AB for the tip.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Liberal leadership race in the dog days of August

Finally, a real development this week in the Liberal leadership. Maurizio Bevilacqua dropped out and supported Rae. I found this puzzling, except for a reference in a Toronto Star profile of St├ęphane Dion to Rae being one of the front runners, my impression has been that he is well back. The logical explanation for Bevilacqua’s support of Rae is that Greg Sorbara, the Ontario Finance Minister who has supported Rae from the outset and who represents the same constituency as Bevilacqua provincially, played a key role in winning his support. There is only speculation to this effect but it makes sense.

The race is opaque, and in a sense still wide open. It will largely be determined by the views of existing Liberal members but it is by no means clear what those views are. I say existing members because they are a larger group than the new members and significantly more likely to turn out at the constituency meetings to elect delegates that will be held at the end of September. Events could strongly influence choices between now and then. I spoke to one new Liberal on Sunday at a wedding who was just beginning to make up her mind.

So what do we know? Not much. There was a straw vote at an Ontario Young Liberal Convention in July. I found the outcome a bit surprising in that the front runners were more dominant than I had expected. The results were:

Ignatieff 30.8%
Kennedy 30.7%
Dion 11.5%
See the discussion here.

This outcome does correspond roughly to my impression of the current order of the race. I suspect that Rae is in fourth place but a long way back, and I continue to see numerous references to the view that his unpopular tenure as Ontario Premier counts heavily against him. I think his lateness in joining the Liberals also matters a great deal. At a minimum he should have at least bought a party card a year ago, not just before entering the race, if he was so enthusiastic about being Liberal leader.

The only other objective measure I can find so far is the number of blog endorsements. Although Dion is barely ahead of Kennedy and Ignatieff in this regard, I don’t think the numbers are meaningful except as confirmation as to who the three leading candidates are. I note that most Liberal bloggers on the page have yet to indicate a preference.

My gut hunch is that Dion will win. I can’t really justify it except to say that he doesn’t seem to have enemies. Based on Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s 1996 experience, this factor would appear to be quite important.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Lamont over Lieberman

Jon Stewart set up the significance of Ned Lamont’s win in the August 8 Democratic primary when he cited the example of Gary Condit, the former Democratic Congressman who was the subject of endless hours of cable news coverage in the summer of 2001 after his intern, Chandra Levy, went missing.

He said: "Incumbency is a powerful weapon in electoral politics. You will remember Gary Condit, admitted an affair, was under suspicion for maybe even killing his intern. Still considered running for re-election". You can see the whole video here.

That is the American reality. Incumbents just don’t lose their own party’s renomination, especially those who six years earlier had run for vice-president. There can be only one explanation: Americans are simply fed up with the Iraq war. Even those who remained loyal to Joe Lieberman in the primary were anti-war. An exit poll by CBS News found that for 43% of Lamont’s primary voters cited the Iraq war as the main reason for supporting him and an additional 24% said it was because he would oppose Bush, while most Lieberman voters supported him for his experience, personal qualities or issues other than Iraq. Among all primary voters, 78% disapproved of the decision to go to war in Iraq. As noted, even a majority of Lieberman’s supporters agreed with Lamont on the issue.

The best writing on this successful insurgency was by Josh Marshall in Time Magazine. Here is an excerpt:

"Lieberman got in trouble because he let himself live in the bubble of D.C. conventional wisdom and A-list punditry. He flattered them; and they loved him back. And as part of that club he was part of the delusion and denial that has sustained our enterprise in Iraq for the last three years. In the weeks leading up to Tuesday's primary, A-list D.C. pundits were writing columns portraying Lieberman's possible defeat as some sort of cataclysmic event that might foreshadow a dark new phase in American politics — as though voters choosing new representation were on a par with abolishing the Constitution or condoning political violence. But those breathless plaints only showed how disconnected they are from what's happening in the country at large. They mirrored his disconnection from the politics of the moment.

The polls tell us the President's approval rating seldom gets out of the 30s. Congress is unpopular. Incumbents are unpopular. Voters prefer Democrats over Republicans by a margin of about 15%. When a once-popular three-term Senator gets bounced in a primary battle with a political unknown, it's a very big deal. Those numbers all add up to a political upheaval this November. The folks in D.C. see the numbers. But they haven't gotten their heads around what they mean. Joe was out of touch. And Washington, D.C., is too.

They didn't see the Joe train wreck coming and they're not ready for what's coming next either."

An earthquake is beginning in American politics the full dimensions of which are not clear.
I think that not only the Iraq War and its unpopularity, but also the Bush administration's mishandling of the war in Lebanon, will likely have a disastrous impact on Republican fortunes. The middle east conflicts strongly contribute to an overall sense that things just are not going well.

It is going to be a Democratic year, the only question is how big their gains will be. The experience of the last upheaval in 1994 tells us that there is a tendency to underestimate just how far things will go.